World’s End; A New Advent Sonnet

its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves

its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves

Advent has a moving, double focus. We focus on the coming of Christ, both as he came, the babe of Bethlehem and as he promises to come again at the end of all things. The readings in church on this first Sunday in Advent made this clear, as we heard the challenging verses of Mark chapter 13 verses 24 to the end. This passage, in which Jesus speaks of the end of all things, but paradoxically calls his disciples to hope, is known to scholars as the ‘little apocalypse’, and its amazing how preachers manage to shy away from it whenever it crops up!

This year I have tentatively begun a new sonnet sequence called ‘Parable and Paradox’ in which I am trying to reflect, as honestly as I can, on the teachings of Jesus as I hear them read to me over the year. So here first is the reading I heard on Sunday, and then the sonnet I have written in response. I was especially moved by the unexpected word ‘tender’, in the midst of all that apocalyptic imagery, when Jesus, in describing the signs of spring in a fig tree, says ‘its branch becomes tender and puts forth leaves’.

As always you can hear me read the sonnet by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button. You can find some other sonnets from the new ‘Parable and Paradox’ sequence Here and Here

Mark 13:24-end

24 ‘But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,  25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.28 ‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.32 ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’

World’s End

So we begin to contemplate the End

With shadowed glimpses of apocalypse.

How can we even start to understand?

The heavens shaken, and the vast eclipse

Of everything that we have ever known.

Then, suddenly revealed, the power and glory

Once-veiled in symbols of the lamb and throne,

The all-revealing climax of our story.


About that day, you tell us, no one knows

But we must wake and watch for you, look up.

Yet hidden in this warning you disclose

A tender yearning, a deep stirring hope,

And bid us, in the visions that you bring,

To see the world’s end as a sign of spring.


Filed under imagination, literature, Poems

13 responses to “World’s End; A New Advent Sonnet

  1. Pastor Barb Hayden

    I find your reflections challenging and reassuring. Thank you for sharing the talent God has so amply blessed you with!

  2. Michelle

    I am reminded of how in God what we know and feel is often, kind of, turned on it’s head. To us, me at least, “the end” feels heart-breaking. Each little “end” in life, seems gloomy. But in God the end of one thing, even of all things, is a sign of the newness to come. His goodness and wonder extend beyond the bounds of those transitions in life that feel insurmountable.

  3. Lovely, evocative, and (in the best way possible) a bit unsettling.

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks Jamie I heard Maggie preach on the the text on Sunday and wrote the sonnet this morning. Thanks for posting on FB

  4. When I saw the photo of the branch and the tender shoot, I thought you would be doing Isaiah 53. Interesting juxtaposition of a tender shoot.
    Your last line is especially striking.

  5. Gavin Drew

    Hey Malcolm! That is an utterly profound and deeply midrashic sonnet — thank you. I shall meditate on it some more and circulate the link. BUT one point with respect to your reference for the “little apocalypse” text embedded above should be Mark (not Matthew) 13:24-37 (or if Matthew, it would be / should be Matthew 24:29-44); you might want to check that and fix it.

    In Jesus … Gavin

  6. RuthiandBruce

    Dear Malcolm Guite,

    We live in Vancouver, BC, and have been following your posts for the past several years — ever since we heard of you via musician Steve Bell, and then attended a public lecture you gave at Regent College in Vancouver 1.5 years ago.

    We changed our email address at the end of December 2014, and recently realized we were no longer receiving your posts. So sorry it has taken us so long to figure this out…we’re in the elder range of Canada’s population!

    We really really appreciated reading your posts, and would kindly ask you to change our old email address on your contact list to the following NEW email address for us:

    We especially anticipate reading and reflecting on your upcoming Lenten posts / poetry…

    Many thanks.

    May the Peace of Christ be with you.

    Ruthi and Bruce Mathewson Vancouver, BC

    • malcolmguite

      Dear Ruthi and Bruce it doesn’t work with my contact list but I think all you have to do is enter your new email into the ‘subscribe’ form on the right hand side of my blog and click on subscribe and you should start to get posts to the new email address

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